Mirror Mirror: Help me see how I want to be #dignity Part 1 of 3


“I don’t believe dignity is something you’re born with…” 

           Miriam Webster defines dignity as, “a way of appearing or behaving that suggests seriousness and self-control: the quality of being worthy of honor or respect”.  Dignity is described as a noun, not a verb; therefore, it’s not an action one takes, but a presence of being and, by description, not something you can possess by simple existence.  I’m not sure dignity is something I was keenly aware of until a very mature age of my life and, my recollection is becoming aware of the genuine ability to have dignity by observation.

There has been one common thread amongst the people in my life who I have observed and believed to possess dignity.  Dignity, being a noun and not a verb, dignity does not require work to maintain, but persons possessing it have more of an inner spirit that drives them to respond to the world and those around them in a particular way.  There is an ease in decisions of consciousness, decisiveness, convictions, and those dignified individuals whom I have known of during my life seem to face situations of existence that would terrify most, with a calmness of soul, and a serenity and an acceptance of fate as the universe would have without questioning the Almighty with “Why?” as some people would.

This is my reflection of three such wonderful souls.

“When I realized what genuine dignity looked like, I thought Wow…”

            My first real glimpse of utter dignity that I recall was the last few weeks of my mother’s life.  She was 80 years old, had survived stage I lung cancer ten years earlier, as well as a multitude of other geriatric health issues, only to then find herself with a late diagnosis of terminal liver cancer.  The rather radical surgery removing a portion of Mom’s left lung saving her life ten years prior required a long hard recovery.  At that time, Mom said she would never undergo such treatment again, and especially when she felt perfectly fine before they cut her open.  It is my belief now, that her conviction some ten years earlier, was the reason why we found ourselves with this late diagnosis.  In other words, my mother was sick for along time and simply ignored the warnings until she became hospital bound, and a diagnosis was made much too late.  She didn’t wish to be diagnosed and feel obligated to undergo treatment she didn’t want to have.

To say cancer defined my Mom would not be telling the whole story.  The truth is my Mom was a lifelong survivor of many trials some would consider a reason to give up.  She was the youngest of three children in a family with an alcoholic father and mother with epilepsy when there was little treatment available.  Mom grew up with tremendous responsibility in a chaotic house with a mother she felt hated her.  Mom loved her father a lot, but he was apparently a mess and died young, and Mom eventually brought my grandmother to live with our family until she passed.   Not having much of an example, Mom married an alcoholic, and while they did their best with three children, history repeated, and Mom was left with most of the responsibility for our family.

Through all of her trials and tribulations, Mom was a strong woman, who was determined to appear like she had it all together, even when the world was crumbling around her.  I can only speak for myself when I say that her cavalier attitude was often off putting to me when I wanted her to crawl in the pot of pity with me when I was feeling bad about what life wasn’t giving me.  For Mom, it was all about appearances.  Don’t show the world your weaknesses, and they won’t be able to pick on them.  She never complained about being sick, even going to work with a turtleneck on to hide the fact that she had caught the mumps from me!  Mom carried this will and grace to her grave.  I really wish I had learned to appreciate it more while she was still alive.

Fast forward to numerous admissions with complicated illnesses.  Even then Mom went to the hospital by ambulance.  She never wanted to go to the doctors or a hospital.  As my brothers and I surrounded her to comfort her during delivery of the news of her liver cancer, Mom looked at all of us wide-eyed and calm.  We looked at Mom, waiting for the moment she would break down.  There were no tears.  Mom had been told there was no treatment that she could tolerate at that point.  She had anywhere from weeks to months to live.  We’re all tearing up, and patting her and asking if she’s ok.  The silence in her glare was puzzling.  Then she calmly looked around at all of us, and God is my witness said, “Well did you think I was going to live for ever!  For God’s sake, I’m 80 f*****g years old!”  Needless to say, we all just sat there frozen in place, not knowing whether to laugh or cry for her.  I mean she was right.  Mom was 80 years old, she led a decent life, she had happy times and sad times, she was loved and adored by many, and the fact was, she was sick as hell.

A decision was made to move Mom to hospice care, as she was ready to stop all life sustaining medications.  She starting refusing food almost right away and within days she slipped into a peaceful coma, drifting out of our lives on the tenth day.  Mom was in a beautiful room, surrounded by cards, notes and flowers from all the people who loved her.  This was her choice, her terms, she was ready to go and, she even refused morphine for comfort claiming she had no pain.  I remember sitting in Mom’s room the day before she left us, and thinking that I only hope if I had to make the choice she did, that I could leave the world so peacefully.  My mother was many things good in her life and, yes, a few bad things too; however, I can say without hesitation, she had dignity and I am so blessed that I got to live in the presence of it, grow from it, and admire it.

Mirror Mirror: You Must be Joking


223, that’s my number.  Sadly, it is not a joke.  Everybody has a number, and when we are adults of a certain age, it’s pretty important that we know what that number is.  I mean, there are a lot of numbers that rank us throughout our lives, and we are trained from a very early age to accept this ranking system as part of our self-persona, or esteem building ego system.  Some of us are raised in an environment where we embrace the ranking system, and naturally aspire to be on the top of the liter board. While others resent having the liter board stuffed down there throat, and simply choose to ignore the natural ranking systems of life, giving very little regard to what their number is.  It is my belief that our approach to the ranking system can be a direct result of how we were raised, a genetic pre-disposition to certain behaviors, as a result of life experiences, or perhaps a combination of all of these things.  After all, I really don’t think anyone is born with the fuck-it attitude!  Surely something happened that got us there?!

Regardless of what our approach is to the ranking system of life, surely it is those choices that we make in response to our rankings over the years that will ultimately decide our future rankings.  (See my blog entry on choices if you have any doubts of my opinion on this topic.) My earliest memory of being scored or ranked is kindergarten.  Four or Five years old is far too young to be scared with grades of A through F, so of course we were treated like the precious little treasures that we were, and received metallic stars to denote how we performed.  Those behaving and achieving exceedingly well would receive gold, next level silver, then bronze stars on projects or home reports.  But everyone got a star, so everyone could feel like a star.  To be honest, I’m positive I was born a diva with a Champaign pallet!  God Rest my mother’s soul, if she was still alive, she would certainly attest to the fact that I by gosh always wanted that gold star.  I somehow just knew it was better, even when I was 5 years old!!  If I received a silver star on a project, it was a don’t even pretend it’s close to a gold star, and a bronze star, just pitch it in the garbage and start trying to cheer me up with a milkshake from McDonald’s.  Aw yes, a little over achiever was born.  I don’t think my parents had a thing to do with my over achiever attitude, I blame that damn ranking system!  Why didn’t they use primary colors instead of precious metals?   The Commodities market doesn’t lie!  Everyone knows gold is worth more than silver and silver is worth more than bronze!  I digress.

You see, there are some children that might figure out that parents like mine, are in some ways rewarding the bronze star by giving you a milkshake to cheer you up, and they might give less effort, but fake disappointment to reap the outcome!  My feeling is that we simply make a choice how to get what we want from life. These choices pile up with time, and do affect future outcomes, and are harder to reverse!  My number, 223, is no accident, but an accumulation of behaviors.  As a natural born over-achiever, even I had to learn that you couldn’t earn a gold star on everything.  For instance, I wanted to be a sprinter on the track team, but I had to settle for competing in the 440 dashes.  When I realized I really wasn’t ever going to get that freaking gold medal, even in the 440 dashes, well let’s just say the track team and I were no longer one.

To this day I prefer to participate in things I feel confident I can be number one in.  Good Lord, I even convinced the paycheck delivery guy that our company needed to be first on his delivery route, just because I like to sign in the number one slot!!  All it took was a story about never loosing site of how good it felt when I won the state cheerleading championship in 8th grade, and still wanting to be number one.  The delivery guy momentarily reminisced about a similar event in his life, and do you know he would proudly show up first thing Wednesday mornings to show me I was in the number one slot every week!  Poor guy actually apologized when he told me he was changing jobs and could no longer guarantee that I would be number one on the route anymore.

There are two important things to be learned about me from this story.  Point one is that I have formed a habit of very casually leaving situations that seem like they will not place me in the appropriate commodities category.  Point two, I will work very hard, and be pretty manipulative at the things that I think will yield an easy, but profitable return to my ego.  The fact that I have spent the last couple of years ignoring both of these things about myself is exactly why I find myself with my current number of 223.  Life has been hard, money was short, and let me just go ahead and be honest; I stopped worrying about diet and exercise.   Besides that crappy diet I indulged myself in, I just stopped making myself care about exercising.  Next week became next month, I will join the gym when I catch up my bills, I don’t have time to do the P90X, and so on.   I know you must be thinking that my number is my weight, but it isn’t.  The fact is that I have weighed exactly what I weigh right now, and my number was only 176.  The difference, I was in much better physical shape.  Working out almost daily, strong, muscular, watching my diet.  My mother’s side of the family all had heart problems, I’ve had high blood pressure since I was 35, staying in good physical shape, and keep my cholesterol low is essential for me.  If you don’t know it already, cholesterol over 200 is not good.  For someone who only weighs 138 pounds, cholesterol of 223 is horrible!  Somewhere over the past couple of years I lost site of my lifelong goal to keep my number in a healthy range, and now it’s going to be a good deal of work to get back in the healthy range.  But really, the diva in me won’t be happy until I get that gold star report from my doctor, so there’s no time like the present to start!!

Mirror Mirror: If What doesn’t Kill Us Makes Us Stronger?

ImageWhat doesn’t kill us makes us stronger!  That’s what my Mom always said, mostly when current life events sucked, and their seemed to be no immediate exit strategy.  Like saying it was the same as winging a little ray of sunshine over the situation, right?  This simple technique may have sufficed when I was five and I was being strapped in a pair of white tights, buckle shoes, gloves and a hair bun; however, as I grew older, it required a little more reflection.

They say you really can’t appreciate your parents until you become one, and I genuinely believe that now!  I admit I bought into my mother’s ranting of “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger………” it just sort of rang out with no ending, like that’s it, no further explanation is required, and I guess I thought ok, that’s it.    Somewhere in my “tween” years, I remember thinking, “well if this is it, I don’t like it!”  And you know what?  I got mad, and I got determined, and I learned to move to a place where the same things couldn’t hurt me in the same way again.  Well isn’t that special?  Perhaps what doesn’t kill us, does in fact, make us stronger!

To point to an early example of how this theory works, my freshman cheerleader tryouts.  I had made the squad every year since, well since every year.  Captain one year.  It never really occurred to me that I wouldn’t make it the crowning glory of years of junior high school, but I didn’t make the freshman squad.  I didn’t make the second squad to cheer for the girls’ team!  What?  You must be kidding me!  I made it home from tryouts, climbed into my Dad’s lap, and whaled like a two year old.  My mother……….you guessed it, just wanted me to know I would survive this bump in the road, and what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.  I’m pretty sure I was just about the age to think, “screw you, it doesn’t’ get any worse than this!”  The next day I was called to the principals office late in the day and told some lame excuse about they had determined that my scoring had been misplaced, it was a horrible mistake, but they had determined they could place me as captain of the girls’ squad as consolation.  Unfortunately, they couldn’t add an extra person to the freshman squad.  It wasn’t until many years later that I found out that my Mom went to the school the next day raising holy hell, only to be told the school felt my placement on the squad may have posed a financial burden on our family, what with my Dad’s illness and my Mom’s need to work all the time.    Oh no you didn’t tell my Mom she wasn’t providing for her children good enough!  Next day I was on a squad of some kind, that’s all I know.  I guess what doesn’t kill us does make us stronger, because my Mom never let me know a thing at the time, but I think she made her point at one junior high school.  The next year, I was more determined than ever to make the high school squad, and I did!

All of that stuff seems a million years ago now, but the lessons learned were engrained in me.  Life has been very good to me at times, and not so good at others.  I honestly feel like life has tried to kill me a couple of times, and it’s certainly kicked my butt a time or two!  But every single time I come out on top, it’s like Conan the Barbarian beating his chest screaming, “I am a beast, I can take it!”  All right, I’m exaggerating, but it feels pretty good to get through the tough times, and know you can.  If I’m honest, I know that my ability to endure can be attributed to those early lessons.  After all, it probably never is as bad as we think it is.  When I’m struggling with the process, I pause and look around, because there is always someone with a lot more burden to carry than me!  People like my friend, Ellen, best friend ever, mother of five, and in treatment for stage III breast cancer.  Ellen is in the fight of her life, and you truly couldn’t meet anyone with a better outlook on life, so what could I have to complain about?  If what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, when Ellen gets through this cancer thing, she’ll probably be a giant

MIrror Mirror: Lost in Translation


Lost in Translation.  It’s not an original thought, but it’s a familiar one to those of us with the creative mind.  Since Thanksgiving, I haven’t found the time to write in my blog, not so much because I didn’t have the burning urge of creativity, but mostly because I find myself lost in a life spent trying to patiently find my way out of the path I choose, into the life in my mind spent creating beautiful works of art, be it on paper, marketing or doing philanthropy work.  Somehow I have always managed to pull my creative side into everything that I do, enough so that I find happiness in life. But there has always been that feeling of a goal line way off in the distance, kind of like being on the biggest loser life segment your entire life!!  Except instead of needing to loose 200 pounds, I need to walk 200 miles barefoot on 110-degree asphalt.  Ok, so now I’m exaggerating just a little, because well, I always was a bit of a drama queen!

Like a lot of people, at times I have wanted to make a million excuses why life has dealt me a bad hand.  But the truth is, almost every time life handed me some sort of tragedy, there was also something good put in my path as well.  If you read back to my blog about choices, you know I found out much too late in life that how our life turns out is all about those choices, and it’s only after careful examination that we sometimes figure these things out.  First point in check, when I was a little girl, my Dad was very ill and couldn’t work much after I was eight or nine years old, so our family didn’t have a lot of money.  My Mom worked two and three jobs to keep the house afloat, and went from being stay at home, crazy ass PTA Mom, to nearly absent Mom.  Sounds sad, right?  God knows I’ve leaned on that excuse in my life, but I hope you will keep reading to see the valuable lesson I’ve learned.

At first it was weird having my Dad home instead of my Mom, but, my Dad had worked very hard to go to college, and he valued education and the arts, and he made sure that we did homework, learning activities, and all of us had to take up an instrument at school.   In addition, over the summers he would make us learn a word from the dictionary every single day and come and tell him the word and the definition, and use it in a sentence.  He would take us to the library to get books, and would make us a read a book each week, and then give a verbal book report to him.  If he wasn’t satisfied that we had actually read the book, he would make us read it again the next week, and report again.  It was Dad who continually told us how important it was to go to college and get an education.  I loved my Mom, but to the day I graduated from college the first time, I know she was proud, but I don’t recall her ever caring if I went one way or the other.  In fact, when I told her I got accepted to the University of Tennessee (my dream school), she said, “Well good for you, how are you going to pay for that!”

In addition to education, Dad truly cared about us being outside and learning about nature.  Prior to getting sick, my Dad had a job that put him on the road constantly, and he was gone all the time.  Once he was home, we would get in the car and take long drives out in the country, walk along creeks, go fishing and skip rocks on Elkhorn creek.  By the time I was probably ten, I knew how to shoot a gun proficiently, and I knew to leave it the hell alone at home.  Even though we couldn’t afford instruments, Dad knew a man in our neighborhood who ran a community band who would give us instruments and teach us, even before band started in school, and by fourth grade I had a saxophone, learning to play.  My Dad was completely responsible for my brief moment sitting at second chair my sophomore year of high school!!  He made me practice every day, at whatever I did.  Can you see where this story is going?  My life could have been so different if my Dad never got sick.  He made good money.  We never would have been poor, but he also never would have been home.  My Mother, God love her, was more worried about my hair being perfect, and that I sat with legs crossed, than she ever was about what I did with my life.  Sadly, I’m not sure that ever changed about Mom.

So you can see how this situation was having a positive impact on my life, although there were things about it that didn’t seem perfect at the time.  Then at the ripe old age of 14, my Dad passed away.  No it wasn’t sudden, it was coming for years and we knew it.  I was a batgirl for the freshman baseball team and came home to find out they took him in an ambulance.  I spent the next month or so sitting with him at the hospital as much as they would let me.  I missed most of that month of school.  You see my mother had to keep working, she always had to work, and I didn’t want him to be alone.  It wasn’t the first time I had sat by his side in the hospital.  I had done it one summer in Nashville, and another time at the same hospital in Lexington.  But this was the last time, and we all knew it.  I will indentify this time as when I became lost in translation, as 14 is a pretty young age to lose your moral support system.

After Dad passed, there just seemed to be no point to try hard in school anymore.  No one really seemed to care.  Mom seemed relieved of the burden, and still was never home.  Luckily for my brothers, one was already off in college, and the other practically was.  But for me, I was just starting high school, so it would be a rough road to go getting through high school without Dad cheering me on.  But somehow I managed the shark-infested waters alone!  My grades were not fantastic, certainly not what they could have been with more effort, but they were good enough to get accepted into a few colleges.  My Dad would be proud!  This is where the tragedy takes the positive spin again.  Remember I wanted to go to UT, but my mother certainly was not going to financially help with that?  I found out that I could get a full paid tuition scholarship in state through my Dad’s veteran benefits if I stayed in Kentucky.  Hello EKU!!

The fact of the matter is, that my Dad was a life long alcoholic who died of liver disease.  He had a choice at one point early in his life to save himself, and he just didn’t.  He had no way to know at that point in his late 20’s, when doctors told him to quit drinking, or else, that when he died at the age of 47, his death would offer his children full paid college tuition.  My Dad was a man who valued education and the arts, and you know what?  He raised three children who all went to college, and all appreciate the same things!

Mirror Mirror: Do I Communicate Well?

ImageLife is a journey for sure and it is a blind journey without communication.  Sometimes it is fun to wonder what goes on in the mind of those around us whose lives have no baring on our own, but when it is someone you care about, it isn’t fun to guess and it is an unfortunate failure when a relationship ends with a complete lack of communication, particularly when the failure is the result of the imaginative mind run amuck….the guessing, the pondering, the placing of thoughts that don’t exist.  Be it intimate, family, friend or foe, it is never a good feeling to find that someone has thought ill of you and based those thoughts on a complete lack of knowledge and this is a situation that can not be resolved.  Though it feels awful. a realist knows that there is no need to simmer in a debate with yourself, but rather better to evaluate, recalculate and move forward with knowledge for the future.  With these thoughts in mind, I submit my new personal tools, THE TEN COMMANDMENTS OF COMMUNICATION:

1.Find a peaceful time to talk-the best time for objective talking is when everyone is in a good mood. (Suggest a good bottle of merlot be served at discussion.)

2. Decide what’s important to say-don’t discuss the last 18 things that caused you grief or need discussing, pick the things that really matter the most, otherwise you just overwhelm the person and are likely to get no response at all. (Girls, turn off the digitel rolodex in your brains.)

3. Speak with the same respect and tone you would want for yourself-if you don’t like to be yelled at, then don’t yell……..get it? (Unless of course the person you’re talking to has turned up the music to drown you out, then suggest avoid conversation all together, because it’s probably going no where anyway.)

4. Start and end with a positive statement-let the person know you’re not just griping, you are hoping to reach a better place.  (That’s right, bite your lip and forget all the dumb stuff you know isn’t going to change anytime soon.)

5. Explain, don’t complain-self-explanatory, no one likes a whiner (unless you’re a winer, and serving a good cheese.)

6. Use positive words rather than negative words to say the same thing-instead of saying “you’re wrong” maybe say, there are other ways to see the situation. (Also suggest avoiding words like; idiot, moron, stupid, dumb-ass, and well, you get the point.)

7. Ask for more sensitivity to your needs-don’t ask anyone to change, ask for for what you need from the person and leave it to them to decide to act differently toward you.

8. Say it just once-honestly, no need to keep repeating yourself, just because there is no instant response doesn’t mean the other person didn’t hear you, they may just need to process and respond. Not everyone works on the same time clock, so say it and move on. (If the other person hasn’t brought the subject back up in oh say, six weeks to six months, then the subject may warrant a re-visit.)

9. Learn to listen as much as you speak-if you miss the response when it comes, then what’s the point? (To truly listen, you can not be quietly thinking through your witty, yet poignant response during the time the other person is speaking!)

And finally,

10. Let the other person know how much you appreciate them listening to you-because TRUST ME, when they never give you a chance to talk (i.e. they never listen to you), and then it ends without any communication, well it’s just a shame. A very good thing can get tossed away without any effort at all.

The Ten Commandments were originally provided to me in some company team building (ha!), so I take no credit for the commandment tools, just the extenuating comments.  It all seems to make pretty good sense, and yet at times is very hard to do.   So is the journey through life, that becomes so interesting.  But I can tell you with certainty, what I find to be true personally, if I feel a burning urge to simultaneously break all of the commandments, that’s the time to duck and run……….gather my myself………and communicate at another time!